CX Insight Magazine

October 2021

The State of Digital Customer Experience in 2021

By John Koo, Chief Marketing Officer, Airkit

Even before 2020, many companies had begun investing in new digital services to increase the scope of their online business. This might have meant adding new channels for customer outreach, such as chat and text, automated appointment scheduling, or AI-powered chatbots as a means to answer customer FAQs.

However, having the right tools and using the right tools correctly are two different things.

A customer might be delighted to see that a business has a chatbot to answer questions after working hours. But, if that chatbot can only tell the customer when a representative will be back online to assist, has it really helped the customer? Many Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems ask consumers to download and use an app. How many customers do you expect to hang up, download an app, authenticate, navigate to the right solution page, and complete their action?

Small friction points in customer experience (CX) implementation directly result in sales or enrollment conversion drop-offs that not only cost the typical brand millions of dollars each year but also drive your customers back to costly agent-assisted support or, in some sectors, to another competitor. By fixing the last mile of CX with digital self-service, you drive customer action while lowering costs by 30-40%.

Based upon a broad survey of consumers in May-July 2021, research captures attitudes toward digital self-service across a range of consumer sectors. The goal is to help decision-makers better understand how consumers perceive digital services and what they value.

Let’s take a look at the data from this research and dive in.

Trend 1
COVID-19 accelerated digital adoption.

2020 moved nearly every business online in one form or another. Consumers expanded their domain of digital services, moving from using a few tried and true digital service categories to adopting entirely new ones.

Prior to the pandemic, consumers predominantly used digital services in the following sectors: 1) Banking and Insurance (36.5%) 2) Cell Phone and Cable (30.2%) and 3) Retail and Grocery (24.6%).

After the pandemic, that landscape expanded. Our survey shows that after 2020, 27.2% of customers increased their use of digital services in Retail and Grocery, while 20.4% of customers expanded their use of Media and Entertainment digital services.

Respondents indicated that change in behavior is likely to stick in the retail and grocery space. 23.2% of customers expect to use more digital options for Retail and Grocery in the coming year than before COVID-19.

KEY TAKEAWAY: While some consumers may go back to more face-to-face service after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, overall consumer behaviors have shifted more permanently toward digital.

Trend 2
Consumers are jumping ship to providers with better digital CX. Some industries are at high risk.

There’s a cruel irony to phone service providers not being great at servicing customers over the phone. This trend has not gone unnoticed by customers. Over 40% of consumers said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to switch cell phone, cable, utility, or insurance companies for a comparable provider with better digital service offerings.

KEY TAKEAWAY: To attract and retain customers, companies have to invest in digital CX. New competitors are disrupting the telecom, utility, or insurance space by setting themselves apart with modern service infrastructure and a CX-forward strategy.

Trend 3
Customers won’t wait on hold.

Our survey found that the average consumer waits 5-10 minutes on hold for customer support. While this figure may seem acceptable to businesses, customers think otherwise.

MIT researcher Richard Larson says, “often the psychology of queuing is more important than the statistics of the wait itself.” That means companies will bleed customers if they perceive the wait as unexpected, taking too long, or unaligned to value. That’s why one in three consumers (32%) say they will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad
experience (PwC).

By using smarter CX strategies that diversify your avenues for customer support, you can reduce wait time while boosting CSAT.

KEY TAKEAWAY: To start, give customers additional ways to find what they’re looking for without requiring them to rely solely on your contact center to offer customer support. By using tools like self-service web flows, email, and automated appointment scheduling, you give your customers the flexibility to choose how they’d like to be served while also reducing the time they spend waiting for that service.

Trend 4
Your customers are already omnichannel ready.

The customer journey spans across channels. To better understand and deliver on your customers’ needs, you need to be able to see how their interactions across channels tie together.

According to our survey, 40% of consumers have used three or more conversation channels to engage customer service. Here are the top channels:

  • Phone
  • Live Chat
  • Website Inquiry

Adding support for these channels is a great start. However, it doesn’t address a common pain point customers face — silos. The most common customer complaint regarding contacting service was that their conversations across various channels were not connected. Customers became frustrated with having to repeatedly re-identify themselves on each channel of engagement.

Businesses need to rise to meet customers’ expectations of having a consistent experience across channels.

KEY TAKEAWAY: CX leaders are adopting digital CX platforms that unite all their communication channels from live chat to email to SMS to IVR, so they can get a 360-degree view of their customers’ needs. The difference with Airkit is you can orchestrate digital experiences that preserve session state and flow uninterrupted across channels without losing context – down to the keystroke.

Trend 5
Lackluster digital service can do more harm than good.

Let’s say a company’s digital offerings were not up to par with customer expectations. After wrestling with live chat or another online experience that didn’t meet their needs, customers will still default to calling customer support. 83% of survey respondents still engage with customer service over the phone.

Between 20-33% of consumers rated their provider’s digital service offerings from “needing improvement” to “horrible.” That means there’s major room for improvement in the CX space.

Additionally, 64% of consumers reported that they were unable to get help or solve their problems through customer service. Given the influx of call volume and long wait times at call centers, customers shouldn’t be forced to speak to a live agent, especially when they are already comfortable with digital self-service options. 55% of consumers said that they are familiar with real-time order updates and 40% are familiar with self-service appointment scheduling.

KEY TAKEAWAY: The lesson here is that having more channels (app, chat, text) available for customer service isn’t enough. You need to make relevant answers and self-service available on these new channels, or you’re really just adding friction to what will eventually be another call center interaction.

Trend 6
You should be automating order updates.

Your support team and contact center staff field one type of customer request more than any other — order updates. In our survey, nearly half of survey respondents said their most common customer service need was to request an update on an order they had made or report an issue with that order.

Sending routine order update requests to your call center is both costly and inefficient. A customer shouldn’t have to wait on hold for information that’s already ready to be sourced directly from your CRM or backend tracking systems.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Using a digital CX platform like Airkit, you can connect self-service experiences to your CRM and backend systems, giving customers the ability to access the order information they’re after at any time. Now, when a customer calls support to request an order update, they can opt to be sent an SMS with a link to a web-based self-service experience in which they can enter their order number and check on its status instantly.

Recommendations for Action

  1. Assess your customer journey. Understand how your customer converts from lead to paying customer, how they onboard, how they dispatch service, and how they expand. By understanding the customer journey, you can identify quick areas of improvement, volume of engagement, and resulting business impact of doing nothing.
  2. Deploy digital deflection. Your customers won’t wait 5-10 minutes on the phone, and many of these requests may not require human intervention. Assess your cost to service, call volume, and call handling times to see what types of calls can be deflected to digital self-service. For example, customers calling in to make common, high-volume requests can be deflected to self-service without agent intervention.
  3. Offer proactive digital service. Use your customer data from your backend systems (CRM, contact center, transaction systems, etc.) to serve personalized, 1:1 digital experiences to your customers. For example, if a customer has made a purchase, serve them a SMS to notify them of their order status. Consider another scenario in which your systems have identified a slice of customers that will be impacted by a pending issue. Rather than using manual intervention, trigger a digital experience to notify customers of a pending service outage and a digital form to collect any additional information.
  4. Ensure you’re omnichannel ready. Your customers use multiple channels, so ensure you’re able to meet them where they are. Use omnichannel nudging (text, chat, email, or voice) to nudge a customer to complete a journey (i.e., remind them to complete their enrollment process). Ensure that you can sustain context, so customers can swap channels and start where they left off.

Research Methodology

From May to July of 2021, Airkit commissioned a study of 1,000 adults in the United States. The goal was to better understand consumers’ experiences with automated self-service options across a variety of industries, and discover how behaviors have changed as a result of the pandemic.


John Koo
Chief Marketing Officer

About the Author:

John’s role in multiple fast-growth companies has been that of a breakthrough creative marketer, building brands, and driving growth. His career has spanned both technical and analytical roles. John enjoys the work of leading teams that create fresh strategies and messages to engage prospects in noisy, competitive markets. At Rubrik, he was responsible for all aspects of Corporate, Product, and Technical Marketing. Formerly, he was part of the leadership team at Pure Storage and was responsible for WW Demand Generation and Marketing Operations. He now serves as Airkit’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Airkit empowers companies to build experiences customers love.

After founding RelateIQ and successfully selling to Salesforce in 2014, the Airkit team is now revolutionizing how companies connect with their customers. Airkit is building software to make customer interactions personalized, proactive, and effortless.



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